National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Bud Powell Lisette Model (artist)
American, 1906 - 1983
Bud Powell, 1956-1958
gelatin silver print
sheet (trimmed to image): 27.2 x 34.9 cm (10 11/16 x 13 3/4 in.)
Patrons' Permanent Fund
2001.67.160
Not on View
From the Tour: Modern Portraits in Photography
Object 10 of 13

Lisette Model (née Seybert, 1901-1983) turned abruptly to photography in 1933, after studying piano and voice in her native Vienna and later in France. Escaping the war, Model relocated from Paris to New York in 1938 and began a freelance career in magazine photography, as well as a complementary trajectory of exhibitions, principally at the Museum of Modern Art. During the 1940s and 1950s, the decades of her greatest visibility, Model established a signature of gritty, off-kilter urban imagery that marked many artists of the subsequent generation, from Garry Winogrand to her own student Diane Arbus.

Model here shows jazz pianist Earl Rudolph (Bud) Powell (1924-1966), one of the leaders of the "be-bop" generation, in a moment of intense concentration as he performs. The frame is tight, almost touching the nimbus of stage light that spills down the back of Powell's head and right arm and glances off the edge of the piano. This close cropping, combined with a view from below, conveys dynamism and intensity of action. Model retains the traditional portrait convention of showing her sitter at work and identifying his trade. But she does not focus on Powell's hands, the most obvious attribute of a pianist. Instead, Model—herself quite accomplished on this instrument—likens music making to an act of thought. Powell's head curves downward as if to meet the contour of the piano; his ear is turned to the music while his mouth parts slightly in an inner dialogue. The true portrait of Bud Powell, Model suggests, comes to us not through his likeness but only by analogy with the action of his sound.

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